Pomona College’s spring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Carolyn Ratteray, is nothing short of stunning. This comedic exploration of romance, jealousy, fate, and free will is set in a decaying urban landscape, the walls overgrown with vines and covered in graffiti. Rap and spoken word are effortlessly incorporated, as if Shakespeare’s verse was meant to be spoken over hip hop beats. Ratteray eschews traditionally gendered casting for a more modern take on the love quadrangle, and the contrast between the stark, minimalist world of the court and the bright, colorful fairy realm adds to the dreamlike quality of this otherworldly romp. At least, this is what I have heard.
When I went to purchase tickets, I was informed that they cost six dollars, which is absolutely outrageous. Don’t get me wrong, I love the theatre. I love it! Believe me, I do! But am I really expected to pay six of my dollars to see a college production of the most overperformed Shakespeare show after Romeo and Juliet? Fuck no! Especially when I could easily create something just as interesting in the comfort of my own dorm room. And so create, I did. Now, you might be thinking – how can a child such as myself match the genius of Shakespeare? Believe you me , it’s easier than you might think.
I began by sneaking around the Scripps campus with my tranquilizer gun and aiming at squirrels until something stuck. After four and a half hours, I was able to sedate not zero, not one, but two squirrels. I took the slumbering fur-children back to my dorm room and gingerly set them in the cardboard box I had waiting for an occasion such as this (I am always prepared for art). While they slept, I cut out the top of the box and taped netting to the sides so that the squirrels would be visible but unable to escape. Then, I waited. Six hours later, the squirrels awoke.
The performance that ensued was arguably one of the most incredible pieces of avant-garde theatre to come out of the twenty-first century.
I will begin by noting the set. Minimalist, but not stark. Beautiful use of perpendicular lines. And as the show began, something marvelous began to happen: the squirrels themselves began to shape the box. They dug their claws into the walls and chewed at the edges, lending the geometric shapes a looser, more natural aspect. The set was not only interactive, but ephemeral. As a viewer, I became aware that I was witnessing the creation of something unique and inimitable.
The acting was beyond anything I have ever witnessed. The squirrels possessed an extraordinary awareness of the human condition, which informed every aspect of their performance. When they awoke, confused and disoriented, they regarded one another more softly. Like newborns, they had not yet realized the cruel game they had been forced into. Slowly, they began to gain lucidity. Their beady black eyes became clearer. They explored the box, scratching softly, squeaking squirrel-words at each other (with incredible breath support and projection, I might add – enunciation was clear as day).
They soon realized that they were trapped, and they began to work themselves into a frenzy. Unable to productively take out their frustration on the box, they turned toward each other, just as men do, incapable of escaping the endless drudgery of the nine-to-five, a failing marriage, taxes, sleeping, waking, eating, shitting, the snotty children, the gender binary, not fit enough, not thin enough, not productive enough, never enough, enough, enough, until –
The squirrels looked up.
And they saw me.
Moments like this are why people come to the theatre. Time froze. The fourth wall was shattered. I have never seen actors so present, so in the moment. It was as if they were seeing their god for the very first time.
It dawned on them that they had a common enemy. They were no longer alone in this cardboard box, and the world no longer seemed so cold, so cruel, so dog-eat-dog.
Filled with determination, the squirrels began to work together to escape the box. They conferred for a moment before climbing in tandem towards the top right corner of the box and chewing away at the same portion of the netting. Their movements were perfectly controlled; nothing was forced or unnecessary, an incredible feat for such young actors, and in no time, they were out. There was a short pause, and the disbelief on the squirrels’ faces was palpable.The third and final act was here. It was now time for them to meet their maker.
The final battle scene was the climax (yeah I said it) this performance deserved. Their triumph was quick. My clothes and skin were torn to shreds within seconds, and just as quickly as the squirrels had arrived, they were gone, scampering out the window and into the black night. There was no curtain call.
This performance left me breathless and bleeding, just as any good piece of theatre should. And, even more importantly, it was absolutely free. While I’m sure Midsummer is just as incredible as everyone says it is, it is nowhere near as gut wrenching — nay as life-changing — as the piece I created in my own room with just two squirrels and a box. I fear I may not live to witness anything like it again.